THE ART OF SELLING: LESSONS FROM THE CON

“I’m a con artist in that I’m an actor. I make people believe something
is real when they know perfectly well it isn’t.”
-John Lithgow, actor

Reader warning: The article you are about to read contains some strange, odd and unsettling insights but, contained within this cautionary tale are a number of lessons.
I like to think of myself as an educated, well-traveled and fairly bright human being with a diverse background of experience and knowledge. Having been a student of the human mind for years, I am aware of how bias and beliefs influence our choices. I know all the tricks of manipulation and persuasion. I’ve studied and practiced Neuro-Linguistic Programming and I am proficient at clinical hypnosis. I have a working knowledge of magic and have been mentored by some of the greatest magicians in the world.
I know about scams; my father was conned out of several thousand dollars. He got a phone call that his grandson Josh was in jail somewhere in the United Kingdom. He was told that, by wiring money, he could secure his freedom. He even spoke to an impersonator whom he believed to be Josh when, in fact, the grandson was just an hour away, safely ensconced in his own home. “How was that possible?” I thought. “It is certainly something that could never happen to worldly me.”
Less than a month ago, I received an e-mail with “speaking opportunity” in the subject line. This is nothing new; people have contacted me by e-mail many times asking about my availability as a speaker. What was interesting about this specific inquiry is that it was from a Bishop (what I now know to be a bogus “Bishop”), the presiding minister of an existing church in the United Kingdom. He wanted me to kick off the opening of their new auditorium and speak to a large audience consisting of community and young people from around the world. I was informed that a member of his congregation had heard me speak and, as head of a youth fellowship student outreach, had highly recommended me. They had visited my web site, watched the video clips and read my blogs. After asking for the “Bishop’s” phone number, I called him at the given number in the UK and we had a long conversation.
Although I passionately love presenting programs on the imagination and leadership, I always consider the consequences of traveling internationally. Travel used to be a joy but no longer is. And, there’s the jet-lag recovery factor to consider. Yet I decided it was worth it – both emotionally and financially. The chance to impact 600 young people from around the world spurred my passion.
I called the “Bishop” back and accepted the date. I informed him that, as is always part of an international contract, the fee would have to be prepaid and the business-class airline ticket and accommodation confirmation taken care of one week prior to my departure. He immediately sent me an e-mail verifying my hotel; the reservation was pre-paid. I also received a faxed contract and letter of agreement.
The next e-mail informed me that I would have to send them proof that I had a work permit and a visa and, if not, they could help me expedite the process. I contacted the American Embassy and was informed you did not need either. “No problem,” wrote the “Bishop”. “Just send the wiring instructions for your payment.” Being cautious, I set up a new bank account. Then the rules changed. They wanted to send a check which they guaranteed would clear before my departure.
I phoned my long-time travel agent, told him the story and, without hesitation he said, “Are you nuts? Have you EVER heard of a church paying this kind of money for a speaker?” Within the hour, he sent me a website to look at. There were at least 50 testimonials from others who had fallen for the same scam with slightly different scenarios. Then, my grandson suggested that what they really wanted was not access to my bank account, but all the information necessary to steal my identity.
Thousands of scams are pulled off every day, usually on the elderly and desperate. Con artists are sociopaths. That means they don’t have empathy – one of the major elements in establishing relationships and selling. They feel nothing but the need to satisfy their own desires without thought to the hurt their behavior causes. They will take advantage of our weaknesses: loneliness, insecurity, poor health or simple ignorance.
Yet this scam was different. As I pondered this issue, I realized that these con artists are well versed in human nature, extremely clever and target our most vulnerable areas.
So, out of this potentially devastating experience, I reexamined the art of selling by examining how they almost conned me.
The idea of speaking to this specific group went to the core of my wanting to make a difference. They TARGETED MY PASSION. Secondly, they made me feel special, wanted and needed. They TAPPED INTO MY EGO AND EMOTION. Thirdly, they met my fee requirements and pushed the button of GREED. They also put a deadline on my decision making, injecting a sense of urgency as well as the FEAR of not meeting their deadline and losing something. Passion, Ego, Greed and Fear.
Scams work because we all can fall prey to wishful thinking and our deepest desires. So, when presented with what appears to be the answer to our dreams, we don’t want to miss out.
Now, let’s flip this around to a positive. By doing so, I will address what I call “ethical” selling. By ethical selling I mean offering a product or service where both you and the customer win. Ethical selling goes beyond being process-oriented or using manipulation techniques to secure a sale. Ethical selling champions using compassion, caring and being of service.
Here are five selling strategies to help you help others to live an exceptional life:
1.) Believe absolutely in your product. If you don’t believe in your product or service strongly and passionately, either get out of the business or find a product or service you do believe in. Passion is a powerful force and people can instantly spot when you don’t have it. Passion and belief go beyond words and resonates at the core of the subconscious. We are built to respond to passion. One of the five key leadership traits I teach in my program “True Leadership” is how to reignite passion for what you do.
2.) Ask what, ideally, the customer wants from the product or service. Then LISTEN. Listening shows respect. When others feel heard, they feel special and you begin to form the bond of all excellent communication – rapport. When you listen more than you talk, you make others feel safe and taken care of. Listening also touches us on a subconscious level. One of the questions I ask my clients is, “If, by some miracle, your audience could walk away having learned and incorporate one lesson in to their lives, what would that lesson be?”
3.) Tell stories and frame them to make your customer feel that it is the right choice and the best product. How is the product going to make his or her life better? What is the value of your product? Paint a picture with words. Our brain is built to be moved by emotion-based stories. Have an arsenal of stories to tell that support the value of your product or service. That’s what I do when a potential client is interested in having me speak
4.) Be patient and never, ever play to someone’s’ fear. Patience shows respect and allows people time to express their concern or fear. It gives you the opportunity to help someone see the value in your product or service. This is of paramount importance when I work with my private coaching clients. As much as I want them to learn what I have to teach, they must move at their speed, not mine.
5.) Give people more than they expect. This holds true for both the sale and the follow-up. We all like to feel that we have “won” by buying the product or service. So, add something extra at the beginning and make sure you follow-up and give superior customer service. I’m paid by the hour when I coach private clients and I always give them an extra 15 minutes free and one of my CD downloads as a gift. After I complete a speaking engagement for clients, I always offer to write an article which supports the key points of my presentation. The extra time I give is well worth it.
Ron Willingham, author of Integrity Selling wrote, “A salesperson’s ethics and values contribute more to sales success than do techniques or strategies.”

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